Grammy: Trendsetter

My great-aunt, whom we all call Grammy, is a pretty phenomenal woman. She knows everything about most good things, and is happy to share that knowledge. She’d be the one I would call if I wanted to know what a strange bird was, or how to blanch something, or how to save a favorite quilt, or what my great-great-great grandfather was like, or how to play cribbage, or why exactly Pebble Mine is so controversial, or if I just wanted to feel loved.

A giant, trendy, Grammy-endorsed boot?

She is widely considered to be an authority on many things, both by my extended family and by her community. However, she is not often called on for her fashion expertise. You see, Grammy is a very active, naturally-beautiful, practical woman in her eighties, who values comfort and utility and long-lasting materials over trends. She is usually seen wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, probably one with birds on it, and Birkenstocks with white socks. Her glasses, which she swings behind her back when she gives you one of her incredible hugs, hang on her chest by what I remember as a turquoise foam cord. Not really a fashion trendsetter, even in a Macklemore Thriftshop kind of way.

This fall, however, I saw her wearing boots that were so comfortable, durable, and practical, and all around awesome that I decided to copy her and get myself a pair. When I went to order them, they were backordered, and I waited painful weeks of cold rain without my exciting new fashion splurge. You see, they were L.L. Bean boots, which have been around forever, but are suddenly trendy. Trendy with young people.

At first, it really amused me that Grammy’s fashion was hip with the youth, but then I got to thinking about what else young people wear and the truth is they wear a lot of sweatpants and t-shirts of things that they like. Of course, their shirts have things like Notorious B.I.G. on them instead of Seabirds of Alaska, but let’s not quibble.

Also, how awesome is it that comfortable, practical, durable, made in the US women’s footwear is cool? It gives me hope that Youth of Today might grow up to be as awesome as my Grammy.


Into the Wind

As many of you know, my cousin Evan died suddenly last Sunday. He collapsed while running a half marathon. He was twenty eight. Even though Evan lived in Seattle and our parents are close, I don’t think I’ve seen him since my sister’s wedding. It’s so easy to take people for granted.Evan Sebenius

There was a memorial for Evan at his folks’ house yesterday, a huge and beautiful party of a couple of hundred or more people who cared about this man. There were stricken faces and also there was laughter. There were sunflowers and music and food. There was a great amount of beer. It made me wish that everyone I knew would get married, because that’s the only other time people have a gathering that good in their honor, and with marriages they get to attend. They get to see how loved they are. Though in the cosmic merging of the afterlife, I would hope people feel loved too.

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Photo credit: Patti Pitcher

There is a circle of cedar trees at Evan’s family’s place, and they strung prayer flags up high in the branches that fluttered like spirits and made a circle to grieve inside. The cedars grow in a thick circle, and as I stood inside them I thought of how even as some of the magnificent trees fall over time, the circle will still stand and the remaining trees will grow to hold the space. That circle of trees feels holy, and it feels resilient.

I don’t know that trees grieve like we do, and I know Evan is deeply grieved, but I saw that same magnificence and resiliency in Evan’s circle of brothers and friends. They made something together, through their inter-grown lives. They made something that is still growing. It was so clear, watching people speak yesterday, that Evan is mourned by a community, not by a few straggling lone souls. This speaks to who he was as a person, and to the love he was raised inside.

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Photo credit: Patti Pitcher

At the end of the memorial, they released a cluster of balloons into the sky. As a childhood subscriber to Ranger Rick magazine, I admit I cringed at the thought of where they all would land, but there was also something so incredibly right about that act. His family stood in a tight circle and released the balloons, which wiggled slowly into the air. They moved strangely like sperm, which made a kind of beautiful, circular sense. As they rose, the sky seemed to grow larger. I could almost imagine infinity. It didn’t happen instantly; for a while the balloons seemed to hover, as if they were looking down at the party. Then they shrank into specks. People turned towards each other, moved towards the beer. I forgot to be watching the moment they disappeared into the clouds.

There is a memorial 5K run planned to honor Evan, and also a fund going to help out his family and let them complete the orchard that Evan had been helping build. It’s really beautiful to see so many people chip in to help.


My brother is disappointed because I’m not being a very friendly moth. “Write something!” he said. “Write something I want to read!”

“Like what?” But he didn’t have very good answers. Luckily, I figured it out: I can write about refrigerators.

Publicity photo for Stars Over Broadway with Jane Froman, James Melton (left), and Pat O’Brien, 1935

We had one. Then on Tuesday, its freezer stopped working. Our homegrown self-slaughtered chickens thawed. The fifteen pounds of berries I’d picked leaked out with the ice into a bloody puddle on the floor. My chocolate pudding ice cream turned into plain old chocolate pudding. Sometimes its easy to forget the fragile balance of life with machines. Sometimes life reminds you.

There we were at midnight, self-diagnosing our refrigerator on Nate’s telephone internet, hauling the fridge out to look at its backside with Nate’s internet telephone turned flashlight. Our diagnosis: call a pro.

Then came a period of what my mom calls “the life of a housewife.” I was personally involved in 23 phone calls and 13 texts on the subject of refrigerators, and that doesn’t include Nate’s calls to the landlord, the landlord’s calls to the repair guys, the repair guys calls to each other, Nate’s calls to appliance stores, or his call to our friend with a truck after the compressor was declared defunct and Nate took it upon himself to get a new fridge that night at Lowes. “Nate’s a doer,” said our landlord, during nearly the last phone call. “He’s a shaker and a – a – I can’t even think of the word.” Which is about right.

Now we have a new fridge! The chickens survived by being little chicken refugees in our neighbor’s freezer. The berry juice mostly came off the floor. I ate my ice cream. My brother has something to read. Something thrilling, right Buddy?

And if you would like to send us a photo of yourself, we’d put it, like my Aunt Buck would say, on our Frigidaire.

Alaskan Retirement

As some of you may know, I recently retired* to Alaska. I am sharing retirement with my Grammy and Grumpy. I do not yet have my own Retirement Name. So far, retirement in Alaska is pretty relaxing. We eat a lot, and take naps. We are taming some Stellar’s Jays to eat peanuts near us on the railing of the deck. Some day they may eat out of our hands. Beyond the jays is the garden, and beyond that is the beautiful view of the bay and the mountains beyond. I will post pictures some time. Alaskan retirement is very beautiful.

Yesterday we went on a walk in a wildflower meadow. It is not wildflower season, but we could see that the flowers would have been very beautiful. The remains of the flowers were beautiful, too. The stalks of the fireweed flamed every reddish color. If we had been feeling philosophical, we might have made profound remarks about Time and Life. As it was, we went back to the car and ate trail mix. Then we went to Safeway for senior discount day.

After that, we went to Save-U-More where we had special-ordered a case of jalapeno peppers. Back at home, we processed them for the freezer, wearing rubber gloves because we know what happens when you don’t. We have experienced some things in our day. Alaskan retirement, I am discovering, involves a great deal of processing things for the freezer, at least in September. This is because of the garden and the eating and Time and bears and also moose and salmon, which is to say it is because of Alaskan retirement.

We also watch the news, especially the weather. There are cats. Today, we went to water aerobics and ate ice cream and fed cauliflower leaves to the chickens. Eventually, it was time for dinner.


Athens vs. Paris

You may have heard my talk about my friend Jesslyn.  She is one of my world’s most stellar human beings, and that’s saying a lot because my life is full of some pretty darn phenomenal people.  Jesslyn is one of those people who need to put bridesmaids dresses on their budget, right after food and car insurance because — even if, like me, you don’t see her that much — she makes you feel seen and loved.  She gives excellent advice, has a dead-on ear for dialogue, and sings beautifully. Plus she uses phrases like “that girl could go bear hunting with a switch,” which is to say she makes the most of being Southern.

Jesslyn lives in Athens, Georgia.  She owns a house there, and is a productively employed, responsible citizen, who supports her family and does her grandma’s grocery shopping, while also being an awesome friend to countless people, married and unmarried.  She herself is married to a total gem of a fellow, and they have one heck of a cool three year old for a daughter.  Also, she drinks bubbly water by the case, and coolly calls them “cold ones.”

It has recently come to my attention that Jesslyn is madly envious of me being in Paris.  Which I understand.  She says that when she gets sad for no reason, it is because she never got to walk around Paris at night and now she is too old. Which she is not, but that’s not the point.

The thing is, I am really envious of her too.  Yes, I get to walk around Paris for a month, which is really, really great. And back in Seattle I have some really good things, especially people and Squinchy and a weighty amount of autonomy.  I am doing my writing, and I have work I love. But Jesslyn has a husband who pollinates orchids with pencils.  She has a daughter who stands in the cat’s water bowl when she gets too hot.  She owns a house in a town she loves and she gets to see her grandmother at least as often as she wants to.

And when I am sad for no reason, all that is exactly what I feel like I’m missing.